A Story From Early On in My Music Career

 

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A sign from my first gig at the age of 18. I love how 1st is written here.

Reading musician Abigail Washburn’s story this week of peeing on herself out of fear at her first gig got me thinking back to my early days of playing. This story came back to me today:

I taught myself to play the guitar my junior year of college. That summer, I came home to Denver and played at some open mics and even got a few gigs. One gig I had was at a coffee shop way out in the boonies, about forty minutes away from my home. I went with my dad (best dad ever, then and now shlepping around everywhere to cheer me on). Two friends of mine – my original Colorado fan base – met us there. There were a handful of people in the now-defunct joint.

The gig went well. I recall that, in the middle of my set, someone told me that I should say my name so people would know who I was. I then proceeded to announce my name at least once between as well as in the middle of every song.

Anyway, here’s the interesting part: After the gig, the guy who told me to announce my name and I started to jam. There was a piano there and, if memory serves me correctly, he played the fiddle. So, I sat down at the piano (my first instrument) and we started jamming.

I tell you, I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my fingers. It was as if God herself were playing that night, not me. To say that I was playing above my ability was an understatement; I was playing and improvising at a level I have never reached before or since. We had a crowd gather around us and I was wowing everyone, including myself. I could feel the music emanating from somewhere beyond my wildest grasp and moving up and through me. I knew I had nothing to do with it. It was simply magical and everyone who was there could feel it.

The proprietor asked us if we could come back and play for money the following Saturday night. I accepted the gig and was immediately a bundle of nerves for the rest of the week, fearing that I would be awful.

So, Saturday night rolled around and we showed up and began to play to a full house. And guess what? We were beyond awful. I was back to being regular old me, with the limited musical skill set that I had. No God speaking through me, no spiritual vessel, no nothing. Just a bundle of nerves and fear and expectations blocking any chance of something awesome occurring again.

We hadn’t rehearsed at all and we just couldn’t get started. We cleared out the place. We played (or whatever you want to call it) for an hour, I shamefully took my money from the angry proprietor and then never saw her or the fiddler or stepped foot in that joint ever again.

So, when I sat down to write this post, I was thinking about how, all these years later, I still didn’t understand what happened. It was such a strange experience. But, in the process of retelling this event that I haven’t thought about for years, I think I finally came to terms with it. Here’s what I now know that I didn’t know for a long time:

– Magic can only happen when you’re relaxed and having fun and unafraid. When we were jamming I was all these things. When we came back for the gig I was none of them.

– You can never count on that special magic occurring but you can do your best to cultivate a sense of inner spaciousness and lightheartedness that makes a hospitable place for it to stay in the event that it does.

– It’s important for your own sanity to know that that magic – or anything you create – doesn’t emanate from you. You may be the one who is lucky enough to transmit it but you can’t take credit for it.

So, here’s to having more of that magic, more of the time!

Lo Res Head Shot Julie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is saving the world one song at a time by writing original, uplifting, positive music in English and Hebrew. You can watch her latest videos here. Sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.

 

If Pentatonix Can Keep Improving Then So Can You

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My family and I only have one television show that we watch together and that’s The Sing-Off (yes, it was cancelled last year but it’s been renewed for next season!). My husband, my 10 year-old son and I all became huge fans of the season three winners, Pentatonix. They are a vocal group comprised of three stellar singers, an out-of-this world vocal bassist and ridiculously talented beat boxer (and cellist!). They were far and away the best group that has ever appeared on the show and have risen the bar of a capella music to new heights.  We can’t even wait to see how groups are going to build upon their vocal prowess next season.

Pentatonix puts out lots of videos of cover songs and I generally watch them. It’s usually nothing too fancy – the five of them in a room singing a song. This week they released their cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl.” Check it out:

Of course, I started browsing through their YouTube channel  and I came across their cover of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” from last January.  Here it is:

What I loved about watching these back to back is the contrast in terms of the production values of the two videos. The new video isn’t fancy, but it’s easier on the eyes and more fun to watch. It’s much better done than the earlier one. Yet another example of just start – yes, even very publicly – and you’ll get better over time. Remember, you can’t get better if you don’t start somewhere.  Anywhere.

Seth Godin says it right in The Icarus Deception: “You don’t need a guru; you need experience, the best kind of experience, the experience of repeated failure.”

Happy starting!

Why I Love Making Mistakes

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I love making mistakes because every time I do, I am reminded that I am one of the people who is out there doing things and not one of the ones sitting on the sidelines, watching those of us who are doing things.

The bigger, the more public my mistakes, the more I am reminded that my tolerance for risk and failure have grown.

Thank God I’m no longer huddled against that wall, afraid to fail.

What Mark Zuckerberg is Teaching us: Fail, Learn, Improve, Repeat

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Greg Satell’s recent article in Forbes, Why the Facebook Phone will Fail and Why It Really Doesn’t Matterwas a fascinating look at the difference between the working styles of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  To sum it up, Jobs always presented us with something that was perfect, whereas Zuckerberg is building Facebook the “Hacker Way” (Zuckerberg’s own words) – creating thousands of smaller versions of the Facebook platform and constantly testing and learning from each of them. The Facebook motto: Done is better than perfect.

Perhaps the difference in styles is in part age-related. Jobs was born in 1955 and Zuckerberg in 1984 (the irony of that year is not lost on me given Facebook’s scuffles with its users in the past over privacy). Jobs was working with computers from their early days, whereas Facebook isn’t even ten years old.  And, it is exactly over the past decade or so that there has been an explosion of metrics available to individuals and companies in most, if not every, field. Simply put, Zuckerberg has tons of data at his fingertips that Jobs didn’t have in the earlier days of computing.

Let’s look anecdotally at the changes over the last decade or two in one field, the music business (I am a singer/songwriter).  Fifteen years ago, I would email fans to give them updates and inform them of upcoming shows. I sent out press kits to different venues, magazines and radio stations. I didn’t know who opened those emails and it was hard to keep track of all the marketing materials I was sending out.

Today, I have a metric (often free, usually from Google) for almost anything I want to measure and learn from so I can better understand what I can offer my fans.  It’s rare that I send anything out without being able to access at least basic information about how it’s being received. I can tell how many people are watching my latest video, what countries they are watching them in, when people are visiting my website, and how new fans are finding me. I can see who’s viewed my digital press kit.

All these tools make it easy, cheap and low-risk to try new things out, measure what’s working, and constantly adjust to give my fans a great experience. While sometimes too much information can paralyze us from moving forward at all, used wisely it can be enormously helpful for anyone building a business.

Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  His job became delivering perfection to a group that came to expect it every time. Perhaps you’ve created a job for yourself like that and you don’t have much need for feedback. But maybe, like many of us, you find yourself employing the Hacker Way, throwing the figurative spaghetti on the wall, measuring it, seeing which pieces stayed up the longest, understanding what was unique about that batch and that part of the wall, and then tweaking it all and trying again.

Jobs was in love with perfection. I have a feeling Zuckerberg is in love with creation. Luckily, so am I.